A Decent Guy

I was 16. I was riding in the backseat of a friend’s car. I reached for her hand. She pulled it away.

My life changed.

Nothing had happened. Well, except this: I violently agreed with her. Why would anyone want me to touch them? Of course I had been wrong to do it, I should have known better. She reacted as all girls would, and as I knew, or should have known, she would.

I was beyond angry, but I was not angry with her. I was angry at myself. Because I had wanted something I was not built to ever get. I was filled with self loathing, because of what I was.

Girls have their own problems of course. Many of them have to face violence, violence from guys who don’t react to rejection the way I did. The psychology of male decency requires consistent application of principles, the leading one of which is this: to never attempt to take what is not yours.

Even enraged as I was, I had no thoughts of wanting to cause anyone harm. But I hated myself with an almost unbearable intensity. I was repulsive. How could I not know that?

The end result of this was a strong desire not to ever have that feeling ever again. So, I became completely unwilling to initiate any kind of physical contact or relations, even with women I was dating, or, ultimately, married to. Bluntly, the joy of acceptance (and sex) paled compared to the agony of rejection.

Another result of this, completely unforeseen, is that I have hundreds of female friends, all of whom love the fact that I never come on to them.

Because I’m such a decent guy, they think.

Date Night

Since 2001, The Beautiful One and I have had a “Date Night” every Thursday night. Although there have been occasional work-related interruptions, a little rough calculation puts us at about 800 plus date nights so far.

Since the real her spends half her day or more with one, two, or three grandchildren, she is typically ready for adult company come Thursday night, as evidenced by the text message affixed to this post.

Before I was married, I would hear people say things like “don’t stop dating after you are married,” and I was puzzled. What exactly did that mean? Was it about spending money? Dressing up? I didn’t really get it, and I’m guessing more than one guy out there has (or has had) similar thoughts. “Date Night” sounds like a gimmick.

Then I got married, a man with a son and stepson, marrying a woman with three daughters (4 of those kids in their teens at the time) and I realized within the first year how difficult it was going to be for us to really spend any time focusing on each other.

When you get no time to focus on each other, many things go unsaid, and many stories go untold, and much laughter goes unlaughed. Marriages (especially new ones with multiple teenagers) need all the laughter laughed they can get.

In addition, for at least one night a week and to the degree possible, the tasks of cooking and cleaning are nice to forego.

We’ve gone in phases over the years: restaurants (many now closed) that we favored, or long stretches of seeing movies. Thursday night is a great movie night, as it is often not terribly crowded.

It is hard these days to get the early start required for a movie, as we are usually waiting for one or more of our daughters to pick up their children. So, our tendency now is to eat out, maybe take a walk, then come back and watch an hour or so of a TV show together before getting ready for bed. Which we did last night: I came home and played with our grandson (taking over the Star Wars themed duty she mentioned earlier) until his mother and father came to get him. We then headed to a very informal local Italian restaurant (her preference last night was not to go anywhere dressy), walking around the neighborhood the restaurant is located in immediately after. We came home and watched two episodes of the old British series As Time Goes By, then each got ready for bed, where we spent the rest of the night.

Over the course of the evening, our conversation strayed all over the place.

We talked some about her work and some about mine.

We talked about two of the kids, and where they are in their lives.

We talked about a friend of mine who is having a very difficult time right now.

We talked about the grandkids, of course, and how the new baby is doing.

We talked about a guy from the local gym (a few doors down from the Italian place we ate at) who likes to walk around after working out, shirtless. I believe my wife’s exact comment about him was “Dude, grow up.” The manager of the restaurant laughed (we had been discussing it at the checkout register) and said they wanted to keep a spray bottle for him there for “glistening purposes”.

She tried to get me to interpret a dream she’d had that a prominent political figure was her stepfather. I had nothing.

I told her, later in the evening, and in reference to her text message of the afternoon, that I had never actually played “spin the bottle”. She said she got her first kiss that way, and it was apparently disgusting. I remember going to one party as a teen where the game was being played, but I wasn’t having it.

Her: Why not?

Me: I was very misunderstood as a teen.

Her: I don’t understand. How is that relevant?

Me: When you are misunderstood, you don’t dare try anything you might enjoy. That totally ruins the effect.

Her: Ah, I see. I think all teens are misunderstood.

Me: Plus, I was worried I’d be bad at it. If you are going to suck at something, you want to keep your viewing audience to a minimum.


Much of what brings us real joy in this life is decidedly non-dramatic.

Closeness. A meal. A walk. Laughter.

Focus.

It’s not fancy, or impressive. It’s just… good.

It’s just… love.

Declarative

I’m lost in these halls. Pain makes more effective walls than steel or concrete.

Each doorway is a small politeness. We must knock before entering. Death itself serves at a shrine of manners.

I was carried in here, of course. I never walk. The world is a constant storm to brains like mine; fluorescent lights are just matches to a fuse.

The night worker looks questions at me as I wander past. I wasn’t sleeping at home, either. No, I don’t remember what happened.

I don’t see that it matters which room I return to; they are designed to be identical, as are the patients. I also can’t remember which room is mine.

Hospital rooms are never ours. We belong to them, for a time.

I find a soda machine. It takes credit cards. I have mine. I get a soda. I sit down on a sofa to drink it.

Now I’m in a bed, inside a room, a Dr. Pepper in a bottle on the table next to me; I remember thinking that it would be the most medicinal of all the soda choices, if only by name. I’m not sure how I got back to this bed.

There seems to be a considerable amount of pain in the room. I’m not entirely sure who is feeling it, however.

There is a beautiful woman sitting in a chair next to me. She looks sad.

She’s holding one of my hands.

She stands and kisses me on my forehead. You weren’t here when I got back. You can’t just leave me like that.  You can’t just disconnect yourself from your monitors.

I have been doing that most of my life, I say.

You were asleep in the break area.

And that sounds like the rest of my life.

When I wake up again, it is light outside. She is asleep in the chair. The room is cold. There is another bed in the room, but whoever the occupant was, is gone. Whoever the occupants were, I guess I should say. These beds transport many, many souls.

As do these rooms. As have these halls.

 

Papa John’s

If pizza were good deeds, I’d qualify as a saint. Virtue being what is is, however, I pretty much suck. 

But, there’s still pizza.

I’m contemplating virtue while waiting for my order. Sometimes it means doing good things, other times, not doing bad things. Or, at least not effing things up beyond all recognition.

Sigh. Maybe pizza can help…

Pepperoni – for kindness.
Sausage – for patience.
Crust – for courage.
Sauce – for wisdom.
Cheese – for humor.

Diet Pepsi – for trying again next time, maybe?

The Truth Is A Strange Concoction

The last few nights, I’ve attended dinner parties. I love dinner and I hate parties, for those keeping score at home.

These dinners have been related to work; we have a large visiting contingent this week. I have bravely (I think) attempted small talk on each occasion. Since everyone in attendance is some sort of mathematician, it has made for some rather interesting attempts at interpersonal communication.

By “interesting” here, I mean “feeble”.

Alcohol exists to help people overcome such limitations – or perhaps to overcome awareness of such limitations – and has been consumed at each of these events copiously. I don’t drink for health related reasons, so I’m sort of an outsider looking in much of the time. I do, however, enjoy seeing people enjoy themselves, and I genuinely like most of my coworkers.

Nevertheless, group dynamics overwhelm me; I prefer people one at a time. So, I go, I listen, I watch, I talk, I leave.

Oh, yes, and I eat.

The Beautiful One got home a little after I did last night, having had an exhausting day. She had brought home her dinner, which gave us 30 minutes to sit down together – a rarity these last few weeks, what with new babies in the family and all.

Her day had been rather nightmarish. Mine had been relatively benign.

We sat talking, feeling in turn some of what the day had felt like for the other, and things came into a sort of focus.

The truth is a strange concoction because reality consists of what we have all put there. My real life is better than I could have ever hoped for. Dashes of this and that from hundreds, even thousands, of people every day that make my worldscape, or yours — these are our truths, our realities.

Jobs, coworkers, friends, family, babies, dinners, photos, text messages, stories, laughter, dance moves, stairways, highways — sometimes days and nights pass in a blur, and end thoughtlessly. Other nights, thoughts weigh us down, like having eaten too many donuts.

What do you mean, you’ve never done that?

I rose early this morning, determined to become more worthy of the life I’ve been gifted. Notice I say “more worthy” not “worthy”.

I also woke up dreading another dinner party tonight.

Would any of you be willing to go and pretend to be me?

 

 

Addled

I’m kind of addled right now.

We were up late last night with the birth of our third grandchild (first granddaughter). She’s beautiful, as is her mother, as is her mother’s mother, as is her mother’s mother’s mother — all of whom were there last night.

I have no memory of having done so, but I apparently wrote and posted a poem this morning. I’m pretty sure it was me though, as it concerns an event that happened to me.

I do remember going to work out this morning. I managed to get through that.

I am terrible with babies, I’m always afraid I will break them. I’m dead clumsy.

Everything in the last 20 hours feels like a dream, possibly because I’m 95% asleep.

The other 5% is just addled.

 

 

 

Tears

(Ideally you would play this music as you read the piece. – Owen)

I wanted to participate in perfection, and make multicolored tulips out of music. I was eighteen, and knew hatred, love, and despair.

The world was ugly: violent, unjust, and painful. But alone, in a spotlight on a wooden stage, these notes, this music built a beautiful world for me, a home. And beauty and sadness were that home: a lovers’ dance, in a world beyond words.

And I blinked, and thirty-seven years went by.

And when I heard the music again, this morning, tears started falling, because of who that boy was, and what he believed, and what would come of him. For in playing this music, he was trying to recreate some measure of perfection.

A thing he no longer thinks possible, most days.